Forty years of Israeli occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip is an obvious time to revisit the past and speculate on future directions. There will be plenty of attention from others on Israels illegal occupation itself, as well as the details such as land confiscations, house demolitions, expulsions, political prisoners, checkpoints, and of course, the settlement enterprise.
But I want to look at something a little different. Something that has been working away quietly in the background, significantly enabling Israel’s control of the Palestinian population and it’s attacks on Palestinian attempts at national liberation. An insidious and destructive phenomenon that rarely gets the attention it deserves – Israels network of informants, more commonly (interestingly) discussed in terms of the Palestinian side of the equation - ‘collaboration’. This is the work of the Shabak (AKA ISA). It’s an extension of the work that the Zionist movement adopted in the pre-state period, taking advantage of petty criminals, petty disputes and general Palestinian heterogeneity to collect crucial information, identify targets, exacerbate differences and recruit allies.
There has been some recent attention to the issue, and several books. One of the most recent is by Israeli historian Hillel Cohen, ‘Good Arabs’ (only in Hebrew currently), which examines collaboration by Palestinian Israelis under military rule in Israel.. An earlier book, ‘Army of Shadows’ looked at the pre-state period. The first account by a Palestinian that touched on this subject was Fouzi el-Asmar’s ‘To be an Arab in Israel'.
Also coming soon is Shira Robinsons book based on her PhD thesis, 'Occupied Citizens in a Liberal State: Palestinians Under Military Rule and the Colonial Formation of Israeli Society, 1948-1966'.
Most deal with the situation of the Palestinians inside Israel. A similar story waits to be told about the extensive spy networks set up in the OT’s post June 1967. Israel applied the lessons it learned in the first 20 years in Israel, to the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. When the full details eventually emerge, it will undoubtedly look something like, possibly even worse than, the Stasi of the former East Germany. Focussing on the occupation ignores this other salient feature of the OTs – that they are also a secret police state, a veritable ‘ShabakLand’, where Palestinians have to consider whom amongst their family and friends may be Shabak informers.
The techniques for recruiting informers has changed little except that in the Israeli controlled OTs, Shabak agents found even more fertile ground for coercion. Access to jobs, permits for travel and medical treatment were productive tools, not to mention torture and blackmail. A study in 2004 by New Profile titled ‘Child Recruitment in Israel’ (PDF) stands out for its’ identification of the Shabaks' practice of recruiting Palestinian child informants by torture and threats against the childs’ family.
Killings at the hands of the Israeli military obviously garner more attention, but the recruitment of informants by the occupation forces are also breaches of the Geneva Conventions. They also represent a very dark and little known side of the 40 year subjugation of the Palestinian people.